"I cannot go back. I am a traitor, and would be sent to Throal's private chambers"–she shuddered–"and afterward, perhaps, to the goddess also. I prefer to die–as I am."
"Why have you done this–thrown your life away?"
The girl made no reply but sat caressing her injured throat, her elfin features slightly puckered, and staring at the mercenary. Something came into Thwaine's throat, too, so that he could not question her again.
"Curse it!" exclaimed Rald, who had been trying out his lately acquired weapon by attempting a quick series of parries and thrusts before an imaginary opponent; "now with a demon or goddess or something to combat, we are not satisfied, but must also acquire a woman to protect!"
"I will bother myself with the task," said Thwaine. His voice was low, but so earnest and strange, so devoid of his customary mocking tones, that Rald stared at him in a vain effort to decipher a hidden meaning. Was Thwaine being clever again? His words were almost a threat. "Do not disparage my–friend. She has brought me something besides a sword."
"Well, I do not want to seem churlish," said Rald. He smiled at the wide eyes of the girl-warrior. "A thousand thanks for the weapon, Ating; I dedicate it to you!"
Above the three, many faces hung over the cliff's edge as the women of Ceipe scrutinized the area of sand for a sign of their sacrifices. Throal was not visible, but his voice reached their ears as he issued commands, most of which pertained to the handling of the flares, and it seemed his hitherto calm demeanor had changed to a mood of fanatical frenzy. He was worried because the victims could not be located. He cursed the warrior who had carried weapons to the arena, and threatened her with a terrible vengeance. Once Rald heard Cene's voice, and although he could not distinguish her words, it seemed to him her tones held a hint of suppressed hysteria.
Rald clutched his sword-hilt fondly and gazed upward, beyond the torches and helmets of the warrior host, to where the stars of the heavens had begun to twinkle about the yellow planet whose beams were distributed alike over friend and foe. Perhaps there was madness in the lunar rays, mused the ex-thief; perhaps the great orb possessed the power to change mortals into demonic shapes as the seers of so many lands proclaimed, but to him it seemed that a strength beyond the ken of physicians or the use of drugs flowed from those same beams to mingle with his blood-stream; he felt exultant beneath the rays, free like the desert winds, capable of confronting any difficulty he should chance to encounter. Perhaps–it was a wild fancy, but perhaps he was one of the chosen, a child of that great planet, waxing and waning in his impulses, his contrast of a life of thievery mingled with heroic and generous deeds, even as the dead world was accredited with forces both good and evil. Certainly, beneath its rays, he gained a confidence in his own ability and ultimate preservation he had never experienced beneath the light of day.
"I think," he said softly to his companions, who had drawn close together and had forgotten he was even present, "I think I will go out there and look at this goddess."
"Oh, no!" cried Ating, clutching Thwaine's arm. "By now she will be awakening! Soon she will be able to move–and then we die!"